It's cold and flu season for us right now so I thought it would be a good time to address some facts about fevers and how fevers are actually one of God's natural remedies for treating illness.
But first, let me give you a little background about where I have come from when it came to illness in general and fevers in particular with our children.
I have made several changes in the past 10 years of motherhood and one of them is this: I don't make an appointment for my child at the pediatrician's as soon as they have a fever or earache. Yes, that was me. The minute I thought my son had an ear infection, I was scheduling an appointment and giving him fever reducer to help "manage the fever."
But as I have grown in my understanding about fevers and illness in general, I am finding that it's usually fine (and best) to just let the body get to work on it's own the way God intended it to.
That doesn't mean that I don't help it out with natural alternatives and a lot of attention. For example, curious as to what I do for ear infections? You can read more here.
Letting fevers aid the body in fighting illness wasn't something I really understood until a few years ago after talking with our chiropractors when our children were sick one time. I didn't realize that letting a fever "do it's thing" would actually help cook off the bad bacteria and help our children beat the illness faster than if I gave them fever reducers.
I also understand that some of you Mommas out there have seen your child experience a febrile seizure and can certainly understand your fear of letting a fever ride so I'll give you some essential oil alternatives to reduce fevers rather than the OTC one's that are available (and also why you may want to reconsider giving them).
But First, Let's Talk About How Fevers are Beneficial
"...our body's first line of defense when invaded by any microbe, virus or bacteria are cells called microphages; a strong, healthy immune system may be able to eliminate the problem with this first step alone. If these fail to contain the microbe/"bug," then the body creates other pryogens and proteins to try to assist. Once these have been created, the hypothalamus in the brain recognizes there is an invader and raises the body temperature to assist in killing it off. This elevated temperature will generally be just a couple of degrees, but the hypothalamus determines, based on the number of pryogens and proteins, what will be necessary to eliminate the microbe/bug. If the hypothalamus creates additional biochemicals to try to protect the body, then the temperature rises accordingly."
So, when a virus is introduced into our body, a fever comes into play sometimes when the microphage cells can't beat the invader. The fever kicks it up a notch when trying to rid the unwelcome house guest.
There is a bit of a misnomer that people think a fever is an illness. Rather, it is a symptom that something's trying to invade the immune system and it is actually a good sign that the body is going to work in fighting an infection.
In her article, The Facts About Fevers Claudia Anrig, DC gives us some information about levels of fevers:
"A true low-grade fever is anything between 100 degrees F and 102.2 degrees F. This level of fever is beneficial; with most microbes/"bugs" that a child will be exposed to, this fever will assist the body in repelling the invader."
"A moderate-grade fever is typically between 102.2 degrees F and 104.5 degrees F. This temperature is still considered beneficial; if a child's body has reached this temperature, it's what's needed to kill whatever bacteria or virus their body is attempting fight."
"A high fever is a fever greater than 104.5. This fever may cause the child some discomfort and result in a bit of crankiness. Generally indicative of a bacterial infection, this fever means that the body is fighting something a little more serious than the common cold. While it will not cause brain damage...it is wise to seek assistance from their medical provider."
Dr. Robert Mendelsohn says in his book, How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor, “There is a common misconception that the height of body temperature is an indication of the severity of an illness….Research has shown that more than half of all parents consider a fever high at levels between 100-102. And almost all believe it is high if it reaches 103 degrees. These parents are also convinced that the height of a fever indicates how sick their child is. This emphatically is not the case. Knowing the level of your child’s fever will tell you nothing of how sick he is or if the fever is produced by a viral or bacterial infection. There’s nothing to be gained by measuring its climb and by doing so will only magnify your fears and upset the child. Even a temperature of 105 need not be a cause of concern.”
Lastly, Dr. Sears is quoted on his site regarding normal childhood illnesses as saying, “Fevers are not serious. Many parents have a misconception that fevers are a bad thing and a sign that there is some serious underlying illness. This simply is not true. Fever is a normal and healthy response of the body to an illness. The body’s immune system releases chemicals that raise the body temperature. This is part of the normal infection-fighting process.”
What If My Child is Miserable From a Fever?
I, like you, absolutely hate to see my sweet babes suffer or in agony. But, based on what I have learned, I don't want to solve a temporary problem (a fever) only to create a long-term affect. (I'll talk more about long term affects of OTC fever reducers in a moment). That being said, our children get a lot of extra love and care when they are sick. One child has even been known to say "I wish I had a fever!" because he wanted to be taken care of the way his younger sibling was. :)
So, here's what I do.
I have the feverish child sleep in our room at night. That way I can be right there if needed (you know how Mom's can wake at the absolute slightest sound of their offspring??). By having them sleep nearby I can remind them to drink water each time they wake and I can quickly feel their forehead to see if their temperature is rising.
If need be, I start using Essential Oils to bring the fever down. The most effective one, that I have found, is Peppermint Essential Oil. Recently our child had a temperature of 104.9 and I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly it started to bring the fever down. In that case though, since the fever was so high, I was dealing with an 18 month old and it was the middle of the night, I sent my husband to the pharmacy to get Motrin and Tylenol. I didn't want to take any chance on the fever going any higher and incurring any risks.
If the child will tolerate it, I also cool their forehead with a cool washcloth, offer them a lukewarm bath (but not too cold to make them shiver!), encourage them to drink a lot of water, make sure they wear light weight clothing (and if it's a baby, I strip them down to their diaper) and during the night I try to encourage them not to bundle up in a blanket. I do let them have one if it comforts them. I also snuggle with them a lot, massage their back and neck and just let them know how special they are to me.
If it's a nursing baby, I nurse as often as they will let me. This gives them antibodies to help fight the virus but also helps cool them down. (If a child is 3 months or younger and running a fever, please contact their health care provider immediately.)
I don't make my kids eat a lot when they're sick because their body is using it's energy to fight the illness instead of digesting food. If they are not hungry, I do offer cool feeling foods such as blueberries, strawberries, applesauce and if I have it, I do let them have something really cold like a healthy popsicle or even coconut ice cream. It is important to limit their sugar intake though since sugar really lowers their immune system's fighting power.
If you know your child is dealing with a virus and it just needs to run its course, one thing to be aware of is dehydration when you're dealing with a persistent fever. Babies and toddlers are especially prone to dehydration because you can't reason with them as to why they need to keep drinking fluids.
Something to look for when your child is running a fever is dehydration so take note of how often they are urinating and what color the urine is. If it's dark, they are not getting enough fluids. They should have 3-4 wet diapers a day.
When our 18 month old was sick with influenza, he had a very high fever for two days, a middle grade fever for two days, had vomited a couple of times and was dealing with diarrhea. He wasn't particularly interested in nursing or using a sippy cup and we were already dealing with the beginning of dehydration. Then, he developed a canker sore on his tongue and he refused liquids altogether.
I was practically beside myself realizing the severity of the situation, but thankfully, my husband thought of using a syringe to get breastmilk in him. At first we started off with 10 ml every 20 minutes but his diapers were still dry so the doctor said we needed to get more into him. We then began 10-20 ml of breastmilk every 10 minutes all day long and woke him at night every 1-2 hours for more.
It wasn't a quick fix and his body took some time to rehydrate itself, but thankfully, we started seeing slightly wet diapers. We stayed on top of this the whole time and had a doctor walking us through it giving us signs of what to look for so we would know whether or not we needed to head to the hospital for an IV.
It took a couple of days of administering fluids to him this way, but we thank the Lord for helping us through that difficult time and that we were able to avoid the ER. Thankfully, the mouth sore healed up and after three days of not nursing, I was one happy Momma to have my baby start nursing again. It was much more pleasant than administering a syringe every 10 minutes!
Overall, I have found that if I do not use fever reducers, our children recover quicker and it seems to help them not get sick as often. (Wish I'd known this years ago!) Thankfully, most fevers will resolve themselves within 24 to 72 hours and are usually not that high.
Please keep in mind that your child may still be contagious until they are "fever-free" for 24 hours. When left to themselves, fevers typically either go down or disappear in the morning hours and rise again in the afternoon and evening. It is best to wait until your child is fever-free for 24 hours before you send them out in the world again. :)
What are the Possible Long-Term Effects of OTC Fever Reducers?
Well, for one, it can increase your child's risk of asthma by a whopping 540%. And, sadly "scientists in New Zealand found in 2010 that Tylenol use before the age of 15 months was associated with a higher risk of children having allergies at the age of six." resource: The Healthy Home Economist
Big bummer. I can't change the past, but I do wonder had I known then what I do now if I could have kept our one child off of breathing treatments and helped him not to develop food allergies. Nonetheless, it has helped instill in me the resolve to not give Children's Tylenol or Motrin as a fever reducer. (And if they are dealing with pain, I have essential oils that can help with that).
And while I haven't read too much on this, I find it interesting that "some pediatricians and oncologists have postulated the modern epidemic of cancer in children as the predictable outcome of our mania for preventing fever in our children, by giving them aspirin, tylenol and anti-biotics." source: Weston A. Price
In conclusion, I would encourage you to closely monitor your child when they have a fever and if at any time you think something is "just not right" be sure to follow up with your health care provider. The information presented in this post is based on my research and my opinion. I am not a doctor, I don't pretend to be one, and don't have the desire to be one so if you feel that you should do more research before coming to a conclusion about this matter, I encourage you to do so.
However, this post should give you a good start on understanding fevers and why it's best to let them do their job. I do hope that this information helps you know how to navigate the waters the next time your child presents a fever.